I attended a good chunk of the West Bend School Board meeting this evening where they discussed the prospect of combining the two high schools into one. This was the meeting that allowed for public input.
There were about 200 people at the meeting. They were overwhelmingly for two schools. Of those who spoke, 37 spoke in favor of two schools; two spoke in favor of combining the schools; and two spoke without expressing an opinion either way. Interestingly, this issue does not break down on conservative vs. liberal lines. It breaks more along the lines of alumni vs. not. Those who went to one of the West Bend high schools or are involved in them (teachers, coaches, parents, etc.) lean way in favor of the status quo. Those who are less personally involved lean toward combining the schools. The passion is clearly on the side of those who wish to keep the status quo, which makes sense since they have an emotional stake in the decision.
After the public comment, the board members had their say on the discussion. I was not able to stay around for all of that. I’m afraid that two hours of school board meeting during Monday Night Football is my limit, but Rick Parks had the most insightful thing to say. Parks was the one who initiated the conversation by bringing it up for the board to consider. That is his prerogative as a school board member. He spoke about the process, the role of the board, the need to avoid conspiracy theories, and the points both for and against having two high schools in one building. He said that based on the feedback during the meeting and in other forums that he believes that the result is a “foregone conclusion.”
Based on what I heard, I’d be shocked if the school board ended up voting for combining the schools. It was clear that if they do so they will face a passionate opposition the next time they run for election. And, for better or worse, the public made it pretty clear that they support two schools. It is impossible to tell if the two schoolers are the majority from a meeting like that, but they are certainly the ones willing to show up and voice their opinions. That’s how a representative government works.
One side note… several people expressed the belief that combining the schools would lead to fewer athletic opportunities which would in turn lead to more kids using drugs and engaging in crime. Even the District Attorney of Washington County, Mark Bensen, spoke in favor of two schools saying that very few of the people his office prosecutes are members of high school sports teams. The argument is a bit specious, in my opinion, but it is clear that there is a deep concern about the rise of drug use and crime in the schools. Rightfully so.
It’s pretty easy to stack a meeting. There is no way that those numbers represent the local opinion.
If we really wanted proper democracy, we’d have a binding referendum next April. Let the voters decide.